Does a Costco Warehouse fit the definition of a convenience store? This is one issue DeKalb County commissioners will face on July 10 when Costco’s zoning application to add gas pumps to its Brookhaven store comes up for another public hearing.
Costco wants to add gas pump islands in the parking lot in the Town Brookhaven mixed use development on the southwest side of Hermance Drive, about 793 feet west of Peachtree Road.
While the community council voted unanimously to deny the request due to concerns about inadequate parking spaces and traffic backing up onto Hermance Drive, the planning commission on May 1 voted 7-1 to recommend approval with two conditions that call for planting cryptomeria on a landscaped island adjacent to the north side of the pumps and for lighting to be directed downward and cut off one hour after closing.
The DeKalb Planning Department recommended approval with six conditions, including one Commissioner Kathie Gannon proposed to limit gas sales from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
After hearing from three residents and a representative from Oglethorpe University, who all opposed Costco’s application, the commissioners could not agree on how long to defer the matter. Commissioner Elaine Boyer’s motion for a two-week deferral for decision and Kathie Gannon’s motion for a 30-day deferral for public hearing, both failed. Finally it was decided that the issue would be brought back at the July 10 meeting for a public hearing.
One Hermance Drive resident who spoke against the application at the June 26 meeting, Alan Coates, told The Crier, “Regardless of a person’s position on the Brookhaven city vote, it would be prudent, wise and fair for the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners to defer a final vote on the Town Brookhaven Costco gas station until the outcome of the Brookhaven vote is known.”
“Originally I was very excited about getting inexpensive gas close to home; I had no preconceived notions,” Coates, a Costco member, said.
However his position changed after Coates learned that Costco gas stations often have very long gas lines and long wait times. Coates said he is concerned about the gas lines backing out onto two-lane Hermance Drive and blocking traffic, including ambulances and school buses.
Costco’s attorney, Kathy Zickert, argued to the commissioners that an OCR (Office Commercial Residential) zoning district allows for convenience stores which sell gasoline and Costco fits the broad definition of a convenience store. She pointed out that a Sam’s Club in the Stonecrest Overlay District sells gasoline. She also said the gas would be sold only to Costco members so traffic would be less than at traditional gas stations.
“Calling Costco a convenience store is a stretch,” Commissioner Jeff Rader said, adding that convenience stores are much smaller.
Rader suggested Costco move the gas pumps to the interior of the development so the traffic could be absorbed there.
Coates said he heard that Costco had approached two other businesses in Town Brookhaven about locating the gas station in a less used part of the parking lot but they would not allow it.
“It is difficult to understand how a big box store can be a convenience store,” Commissioner Kathie Gannon said, adding that she proposed some conditions for the zoning change to protect current and future residents on Hermance Drive.
Zickert rejected three of Gannon’s proposed conditions that would have: required a privacy fence along the northwest boundary separating Costco from a proposed townhouse development; prohibited signs advertising the sale of gas; and required a “Truck Access Only” sign at the western-most driveway entrance into the mixed use development portion of Town Brookhaven.
Gannon noted that no DeKalb residents attended a February community meeting Costco held regarding their application, adding, “That should have raised a red flag.”
Coates, who lives across from the proposed site, said he learned about the Costco application when he saw a sign in late March advertising the April 17 community council meeting.
Another issue involves a condition in the original Town Brookhaven rezoning that restricted the driveway nearest the proposed gas station to truck traffic only. Unless this condition is changed, Costco would have to move the gas pumps to another part of the parking lot.
“Oglethorpe University’s concerns are devaluation of its land, increased traffic and the effect on the quality of life on the campus and surrounding community,” Renee Vary Keele, director for university communications, told The Crier.
Zickert told the commissioners the president of Oglethorpe University had told her the university would support the application if Costco would consider contributing to a pedestrian connection.
“We won’t pay $125,000 to buy off opposition,” Zickert said.
“We weren’t trying to hold them hostage,” Michael Horan, Oglethorpe’s vice president for business and finance, told the Crier.
At a meeting about two weeks ago with Costco’s attorney, university officials said Oglethorpe, which is the biggest property owner on Hermance, would lose $125,000 in property value if Costco’s application was approved.
“If the commission was going to give them approval, we wanted to get something out of it,” Horan said.
In exchange for that devaluation, the university wanted a walkway built for students to Town Brookhaven, where many of them shop and work.
“We really don’t want [the gas pumps],” Horan said. “Gas tankers would be coming up Hermance which only has two lanes, going past the academy when kids are getting out or school buses are on the road. We don’t see any positives except to Costco’s pocket book.”